33 ATV Braking Tips to Help You Slow Down Faster

Braking is an important part of ATV riding.  For ATV racers, it can be the difference between a win or loss, but for normal ATV riders, it can be the difference between life or death.  While braking is a relatively simply concept, there is actually a lot that goes into maximizing the efficiency of your braking to ensure you can stop as quickly and safely as possible, or to provide you the most advantage when you are racing or just having fun riding aggressively on a good trail.  In this article, I am going to share 33 of my favorite tips to help your technique, maximize your ATV’s ability and ensure your safety while braking.

1. Pick the right place to brake.  

How effective your braking is and how quickly you can slow down is going to depend a lot on the surface you are braking.  If you have the option to choose where you are going to brake, you want to choose the smoothest and hardest piece of ground.  This will help you keep the most control of the ATV and keep your tires keeping the most traction to the ground so the brakes can be at their most effective.  While this is not always realistic or even possible, you should train your mind to search out the best piece of ground for when you have to brake, even if it just means you steer a little towards the left or right as you enter your brake to hit the better braking surface.


2. Brake in a straight line.    

The easiest way to keep traction on your back tires and increase your drag it to brake when your ATV is traveling in a straight line, meaning all tires are facing straight ahead.  If your wheels are turned when you apply the rear brake, there is a good chance the ATV will start to slide. This decreases the drag and slows down your braking. So, if possible, try to keep the wheels perfectly straight when you need to stop in a hurry.

3. Keep your weight towards the rear.

This one is pretty self-explanatory, but it is so important.  Anyone that has flown over the handlebars (or been stuck riding in your underwear because your pants caught on the handlebars and ripped off you (in the snow no less)), knows how essential it is to keep your weight as far to the rear as possible.  By keeping your weight on the rear of the vehicle, you help keep the back end of your ATV on the ground. Not only does this help you from flipping over the front end, it helps keep all four tires on the ground, allowing that traction to continue to slow the ATV as you apply the brakes.  Remember, the brakes don’t do you any good if your tires are not on the ground.

4. Grip your ATV firmly with your knees.

You want to squeeze the middle of your ATV between your knees while braking hard.  This prevents your feet from bouncing off the ATV over rough terrain and helps keep your body weight down on the bike so you don’t lose control.

5. Keep your feet on the footrests.

Keeping your feet on the footrests is important during braking.  Not only does this help you keep control of the ATV, it keeps your body weight pushing down on the ATV to help keep the maximum amount of traction on the tires to let the brakes work more efficiently.

6. Use both brakes together.  

You want to use the front and rear brakes smoothly together. Your front brake will be doing most of the work because of your forward momentum, but if you only use your front brakes you have a much greater chance of locking up your wheels and losing control of your ATV.

7. Understand what determines your stopping distance.  

Stopping distance is the time it takes for you to stop the ATV once you realize you need to stop.  Stopping distance is calculated by adding your reaction time distance (how long you will travel between the time you realize you need to stop and you start braking) and your braking distance (the distance traveled while you are braking to a stop).  The braking distance is dependant upon your speed and drag. Drag is the amount of friction between the tires and the surface of the land. For example, mud has more drag than dirt, and dirt will have more drag than wet cement.

8. Learn your stopping distance at different speeds.  

As discussed above, your stopping distance is going to depend on a lot of different factors, so you will need to pay attention while riding as you are learning your own stopping distances.  Even though you will need experience to learn your personal stopping distances at different speeds and in different conditions, but there are some general examples that can help you get a baseline for what to expect.

  • At 15 m.p.h., you should expect a total stopping distance of about 90 feet, which includes about 75 feet reaction distance and 15 feet braking distance.
  • At 30 m.p.h., you should expect a total stopping distance of about 180 feet, which includes about 140 feet reaction distance and 40 feet braking distance.
  • At 45 m.p.h., you should expect a total stopping distance of about 320 feet, which includes about 200 feet of reaction distance and 120 feet of braking distance.
  • At 60 m.p.h., you should expect a total stopping distance of about 460 feet, which includes about 260 feet reaction distance and 200 feet braking distance.

9. Do not lock up your wheels.  

When you are braking, you have to try hard to not lock up the wheels.  This is especially important with your front wheels. If you lock up the front wheels, it can cause the front wheel to wash out and kick you off. Locking up the back wheel is not as dangerous, but it can still cause you to skid out and lose control.  Not only can locking up your wheels be extremely dangerous, it can slow down your stop. Because the tires need to have traction to slow the ATV down, if they are skidding over the ground, they lose valuable contact with the ground and don’t slow the ATV down as quickly.

10. Ease off the brakes when they lock up.

If you do lock up any of the wheels, quickly ease off the affected brake to get the wheels turning again. This is the best way to keep from ending up face-first in the dirt, but it also allows your tires to gain traction so you can regain control of the ATV and the stopping process will continue more quickly.

11. While braking during turn in 4WD, lean out from the turn.  

This one seems counter-intuitive as you usually like to lean in while you are braking and turning, but in four-wheel drive, the front wheels will dive in, so you want to put more of your body weight to the opposite site to prevent falling off the front side of your ATV.

12. While braking during a turn in 2WD  lean in toward the turn.

While the opposite is true in four-wheel drive, you want to lean toward the inside of the turn if you are in two-wheel drive.  In four-wheel drive, you need to worry about the ATV biting to the inside, but in two-wheel drive, you need to worry about the back of the ATV sliding out.  Because you are more likely to lose traction in two-wheel drive, you want to compensate by leaning in toward the turn to keep the ATV from sliding as much. Remember sliding slows down your braking.

13. Use the front brakes while going uphill.  

While you usually want to use all brakes to stop most effectively, you only want to use the front brakes while going up a steeper hill.  This, in conjunction with keeping your weight forward, will help keep the ATV from rolling backwards, which could happen if you use the back brakes on a very steep hill.

14. Use the rear brakes while going downhill.  

This is the same idea as using your front brakes while going uphill.  When you are going down a steeper hill, you need to keep you weight back and only use the back brakes.  If you use the front brakes, the momentum from the back side of the ATV will want to continue and flip over the front end, which can be very dangerous.

15. Keep your weight uphill.  

Whether you are going uphill or downhill, you just need to remember, while braking, to always keep your weight uphill.  If you are going uphill, this means your lean toward the front of the ATV to keep the ATV from flipping backwards. If you are going downhilll, this means keeping your weight toward the rear of the ATV to keep from flipping over the front of the ATV.

16. Downshift.  

This is going to depend on your specific ATV.  If you have an automatic, you obviously do not need to worry about it, but with a manual, downshifting is usually helpful when slowing down, especially going down hill.  However, even with a manual, it may not always be a good fit for your ATV. Make sure to read the owner’s manual for your ATV and test out how the ATV performs while downshifting in 4WD and 2WD, if available on your ATV, and while downshifting with the front brakes, rear brakes and all brakes applied.

To downshift, start by pulling the clutch in to disengage the drive while applying the brakes to slow down. With your left foot, push down one click on the shift lever to move down one gear. Apply throttle and release the clutch slowly to reengage the drive.  When actually downshifting, you need to make sure you are not shifting into a lower gear than is appropriate for the speed you are travelling.  For example, you do not want to shift into second gear while you are going 40 m.p.h. You also want to, if possible, match your rpms to where you are shifting.  So if your engine would normally be revving in second gear at 10 m.p.h., you can rev your engine a bit while downshifting to match that. With your brakes fully applied, this won’t slow down your stopping.

Downshifting is not going to be necessary on all situations, like when you are quickly braking on level ground in a straight line.  That being said, you can guess when downshifting is going to be most helpful. One is going downhill where you need to quickly slow down, but are not going to be coming to a complete stop.  Second is where you are braking around a corner and need to accelerate quickly. Be sure to check out our awesome guide to cornering in an ATV for more on that.

17. Pull the clutch.  

Once again, this only applies if you are driving a manual ATV.  When you are braking on a manual ATV, and are not going to be downshifting, you must first pull the clutch with your left hand to disengage the drive. Once you have pulled the clutch, you can use your right hand and right foot to apply the front and rear brakes to slow down. You hand brake will control the front wheel brake, which will do most of the braking when slowing quickly, and the foot brake handles the rear wheels. It is important that you hold the clutch in until your ATV comes to a stop or until you have shifted into a new gear.  This will help you avoid stalling or damaging your ATV. Once you have come to a stop or have reached the speed you want to be at, then you need to shift down with your left foot until you are in neutral, if stopped, or into the gear appropriate for the speed you are continuing at. Then you can release the clutch without stalling the engine.

18. Brake late going into a turn.  

This tip is more applicable to ATV racing.  There is a common saying in ATV racing that whoever can out-brake the competition will win a race. This is referring to the added speed and control you gain by braking later into a corner. If you have the experience and skill, you want to go fast into a turn, brake late, and accelerate fast out of the turn.  This causes you to lose less speed around the turn. If this is something you want to learn more about, read our guide to more effective cornering.

19. Swerve properly if necessary.  

Sometimes the need to stop quickly comes from something in our path that we need to avoid.  Because of this, we need to learn how to swerve properly. The two biggest things to swerving are remaining in control and letting of the brakes.  While you would think you want to keep braking to continue slowing down during a swerve, braking will often cause the tires to lock up, which means you will lose traction with the ground and end up skidding.

20. Don’t trust the feel on your ATV’s brakes.  

This one may sound strange, but ATV brakes lose their feel and performance over a long period of time.  So, unless you only ride your ATV very rarely, you may not notice the slow decline on your brakes over time.  It can help to have someone new ride your ATV every once in a while to give you feedback on how it feels to them.  It is also valuable to perform routine inspections of your brake components to visually see what kind of condition they are in, which takes us to our next tip.

21. Practice good brake maintenance.

It goes without saying that brakes in good condition are going to be much more effective at slowing your ATV than brakes that are not functioning to their full capacity.  Most ATVs are usually equipped with hydraulic disk brakes because they have some advantages over drum brakes when it comes to ATVs. Luckily, hydraulic brakes usually require easier maintenance, they are easier to mount and  they provided more braking torque, which means slowing down faster. The next — tips will help with brake maintenance.

22. Don’t just worry about the brake pads.  

Brake pads are an important component of the brakes that need changing the most, but simply throwing new brake pads on will not always restore your brakes to top performance.  If there are other brake components that require maintenance, simply changing the pads won’t help and the conditions could just cause the new pads to quickly wear out.

23. Get new brake pads.  

Wait, the tip above said don’t just get new brake pads.  While new brake pads will not help if you have other brake maintenance needed, worn out brake pads do need to be replaced.  Getting better brake pads, especially those designed for motocross use, can really improve your braking efficiency as well.

There are two main types of after-market brakes pads you can purchase:

  • Organic pads are created through the use of different materials such as glass, rubbers, resins and Kevlar, which can sustain high heats. These organic materials won’t pollute the environment as they wear and are easy to dispose of. Organic pads not only provide a much softer stop, but they are quieter, and don’t release as much dust. The organic pads are usually used on smaller ATVS or utility ATVS that  do not usually need to stop all of a sudden.
  • Sintered pads are by far the most popular type of pad on the market and the most likely to come stock on your vehicle. Sintered pads are the longest lasting pads available to ATV riders and are made by fusing together different metallic compounds that are all heated under high amounts of pressure. This process  results in a pad that is extremely resistant to friction. Sintered brake pads are the most common for ATV racers because of their ability to withstand the most heat, reducing warm up times and producing a strong braking “bite” right away. Because of their genetic makeup, sinter pads perform well under nearly all weather conditions including rain, snow and mud.  While the sintered brake pads will improve your braking performance, they are more likely to wear on your rotors, so it is even more important to inspect your rotors as discussed in another tip.

24. Check your Rotors.  

As rotors become thinner, they lose their ability to dissipate heat and create the friction necessary for effective braking. Also, rotors do not always wear perfectly evenly, even though it may be difficult to see with the naked eye. In most cases, your brake pads will create a concave wear pattern. Putting new brake pads on a rotor that is not flat will result in ineffective braking. It will also create a bad wear pattern on your brand new pads and decrease their lifespan as discussed above.

25. Clean out between the brake caliper and the pistons.

In most ATVs, a floating caliper is used to compensate for brake wear and movement in the brake rotor.  The caliper rides on guide pins that must be clean and lubricated to facilitate proper movement and perform their jobs.  Over time, crud and corrosion can build up between the brake caliper and the pistons. This keeps them from moving freely and smoothly. While there are rubber boots that attempt to keep it as clean as possible, but there is only so much you can expect when you are riding through dirt, sand and mud. The caliper pistons must be able to float freely to transfer hydraulic pressure to the brake pad when the brakes are applied.

If the piston is stuck, you need to dislodge it to ensure the most effective braking.  

If the piston is only slightly stuck, you can probably get it freed by pushing the piston out by applying the brakes lightly with the caliper/pads removed, and then pushing the pistons back in with a pliers or C-clamp.

When you remove the caliper pins, you will want to clean them thoroughly.  You are also best served by applying a little bit of silicone lubricant to help to free things up. You will also want to make sure the rubber boots are in good condition so they will help keep future grime and dirt out of the pins.

26. Flush and replace your brake fluid.  

Brake fluid is an important part of the  braking system that should not be overlooked. Brake fluid has many purposes in a braking system. It has to transmit force from the master cylinder piston to the caliper pistons, lubricate the internal components, and help to transfer heat away from your brake caliper pistons.

Over time and use, your brake fluid will become contaminated with wear particles from the braking system, water, and dirt. When this happens, the brake fluid cannot effectively fulfill its purpose and your braking performance suffers. To fix this problem, you must flush and replace your brake fluid.

Flushing your old brake fluid out of the system and replacing it with fresh fluid will make a surprisingly big difference in the feel and performance of your brakes, helping you to stop more quickly

27. Enhance the longevity and performance of your brake fluid between flushes.

 Brake fluid is hygroscopic, which means it will draw moisture from the atmosphere and become fouled with water.  This is a big deal if it happens because the water will drastically decrease brake fluid longevity and performance. To prevent moisture from getting in you brake fluid, make sure to keep your master cylinder reservoir and your brake fluid containers closed at all times except for when you are filling your reservoir

28. Replace old tires.  

Riding an ATV on old tires with little tread left is a surefire way to slow down your braking.  Remember, the tires need friction with the surface to create drag, which impacts how quickly you can stop.  Thus, if your tires are lacking tread, there is nothing to grip the ground, which means less drag.

Checking your tires should be part of the routine maintenance check you perform before every ride.  If you see, during your tire inspection, rounded down knobs or tire rubber that is dry, discolored and/or cracked, you will need to replace your tires to ensure maximum braking efficiency (in addition to other important considerations such as not wanting to blow a tire or deal with skidding out,etc.).  You should be able to tell when your tires look weathered, old and in need of replacement, but if you can’t decide, try putting them next to a newer tire to see how they compare to the rich, dark black color you find on a new tire. This can be pretty revealing, much like when I think an old shirt is still nice and white until I look at it next to a new white shirt and it looks yellow or gray.  As a general rule, the shelf life of most ATV tires is going to be about four or five years.

29. Have the right kind of tires on your ATV.  The first step to choosing the right ATV tire is knowing the type of terrain you are going to be riding on. While most casual riders are going to be spending their time on trails, some riders might be spending the majority of their time on sand dunes, muddy swamps or racing tracks.There are five types of tires you can put on your ATV:

  • All-Purpose
  • Sand
  • Mud
  • Motocross
  • Off-Road

A good all-purpose tire is going to be sufficient for most casual rider, but if you are a serious rider and what maximum control of your ATV and the ability to stop as quickly as possible, getting the right kind of tire for your riding style can make a big difference.  The best tire to match your style of riding will allow as much surface area of the tire as possible to make contact with the ground while still allowing the tires to clean their treads out. This, in turn, will give you the most grip and responsiveness while braking.

30. Get the right tire tread.  

Unlike your car, the tread on your ATV tires should not all be the same if you want maximum performance.  Serious ATV racers and other riders have different tread between the front and rear tires. While the front tires typically contain a tread that runs down the center of the tire to act more like a blade for precise steering, you still want to ensure there is some tread toward the sidewall of the tire to make sure you have some decent braking ability with the front tires.

On the other hand, the rear tires need to be designed for stopping quickly.  The rear tire tread should have a staggered pattern to them. This ensures maximum contact with the ground while simultaneously giving you control and comfort. This staggering of the tread will also keep the tires free of mud and debris and help to prevent hydroplaning while on a wet trail or track.

31. Set your tires’ camber to a slight negative position.

This is another tip that is just trying to get the maximum advantage out of your tires is you are an ATV racer or very serious enthusiast.

Camber refers to the amount of degrees that your tires and wheels are either tilted inwards or outwards at the top of the tire in relation to the bottom of the tire. When a tire is tilted in at the top and protrudes outward at the bottom, it is said to have a negative camber. The opposite holds true for a positive camber, the top is tilted outward while the bottom of the tire is drawn inward toward the center of the vehicle.

The camber of your tires can affect your braking performance because it changes the traction your tires have with the ground, and braking performance is at its best when the tires have the most traction on the ground. This happens when as much of the tread is in contact with the ground at any given point in time. As your ATV enters a corner, centrifugal forces naturally cause positive camber. To ensure that the tires have as much traction as possible, you want to ensure that maximum tread is always on the ground.  To do this, you set your camber with a slight negative position. How much negative camber you choose to set on your ATV depends on the particular terrain you plan to ride on and the amount of travel your suspension has.

32. Keep your ATV stored out of the sun.  

While this is probably a good idea for many reasons (check out our article on ATV security), direct sunlight will fade and dry out the tires.  This will speed up the cracking of a tire and drastically reduce its lifespan. Cracking and worn-out tires reduce your ability to brake at maximum efficiency, as discussed above.  It also wastes money having to replace your tires more often.

33. Check your tire pressure.  

You should check tire pressure before every ride as the tire pressure can change on any given day between rides, especially if you have stored the ATV for any significant period of time.  The tire pressure can greatly affect the way your ATV handles, including how well you can brake, and how quickly your tires wear out.  We have a seriously awesome pump to help you keep your tire pressure perfect over on our Recommended Gear page.


Brent Huntley

Brent Huntley is the owner of ATV Man and is responsible for almost all the material on the website. He also runs photographyandtravel.com and loves to travel and ride ATVs with his family. When he isn't playing, his day job consists of owning Huntley Law.

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